The Problem with Boys: What They Need and How We Can Help

What does it mean to be a man? This question has been answered in history through many different ways. Some noble and integral, and some just the opposite. My more cynical side would say it’s the later part mostly. And yet, I’m the mom of two boys, so I wrestle with this question myself. At times, I fear how they will turn out as men. I question how they will treat people, women especially, and I worry for the health of their relationships. The culture at large is still asking this question and the Church as well. Sadly, the Church can adopt the lies of masculinity found in the culture, as Mike Cosper points out in his podcast, The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill. Mark Driscoll is a prime example of a male leader in the Church answering this question in toxic ways. As we’ve seen the rise of someone like Rachel Denhollander, saw the fall of Ravi Zacherias post-mortem, and the recent findings in the Southern Baptist Convention, parts of the Church are telling the world what it means to be a man, and it’s not very different from what the world tells us. 

In the documentary, The Mask You Live In, educator, author, activist, pastor and coach Joe Ehrmann shares a story from his childhood. As a small boy his father took him into the basement for a talk, telling him to “be a man!” “Stop with the tears. Stop with the emotions.” Ehrmann says this encounter was a source of great shame for him as he began his journey fighting this feeling of not being enough of a man. He then goes on to share how football became a way for him to hide. Maybe then his dad would see him as strong and tough and give him the love and attention he craved? Ehrmann says these three words: “Be a man!” are the most destructive words in our society. 

The Mask You Live In explores the socialization of boys in the ways of “manhood”. How from a young age boys are taught, culturally and socially, to lock down their emotions. Even with the most recent school shooting in Texas, perpetrated by another young man, our social problem is on full display. By the time a boy commits a violent act he has already embraced and lived out the lies of masculinity that our culture promotes. As Ehrmann points out in his Ted Talk: “Violence is unprocessed grief” and “Boys who can’t cry, shoot bullets.” In our culture today a man is measured by his athleticism (strength, speed, skill set), his sexual conquests, and his economic success. This is how the world tells us to measure the worth of a man. And these lies come at a great cost to our boys. 

George Orwell said, “He wears a mask and his face grows to fit it.” In the documentary, The Mask You Live In, various boys say things like, “We don’t really talk about feelings at our house,” “I felt alone”, “I was an outcast”, “I couldn’t be myself”. Psychologist and educator, Dr. William Pollack, says boys are not encouraged to talk about any kind of pain, and when they do most parents look for ways to fix the problem; parents tend to focus on an action instead of the emotions. Boys (and I would argue some girls too) put on a mask to hide their insecurities and vulnerabilities, because they feel the cultural pressure to hide (or mask) their emotions. This leaves a boy disconnected from himself, and if he doesn’t understand his own emotions and feelings, then how will he ever be an understanding and empathetic person? As Ehrmann points out, we don’t typically raise boys to be relationally successful. 

And yet, this is my heart’s passion as a mother of two boys. My biggest goal is to foster a healthy relationship with them, model for them the things I want them to emulate, things like openness, honesty, and humility in relationships. I know I mess up at times, but I still strive to be a safe person for them. They know the times I mess up, because we talk about it. This helps them know I’m still safe, but not perfect. I make naming emotions in myself and in them a priority, and we talk about things we can do when we feel a certain way. This creates safety, security, and connection in a home. I try my hardest to validate and confirm their feelings and experiences, even if it involves me or their siblings. If I can be the one person my children come to for emotional, relational, and life help then I’m satisfied. 

Ehrmann points out the significance of a boy having just one meaningful relationship. A close connection where he can open up, share what he’s going through, be held accountable, and express what he’s feeling. We typically associate these qualities with girls (though I have personally seen enough women who don’t have these skills), and we assume an innate biological nature to girls that is different from boys when it comes to social/emotional development. Because of those beliefs, or gender stereotypes, we end up perpetuating them. Because we assume boys are innately bad at talking about their feelings, and having close relationships, we then don’t expect that of them and then they grow up to be dysfunctional men who are not fully human. We end up treating our daughters very differently from our sons, instead of realizing that boys and girls are both human beings with feelings and emotions and needs for connection. Psychologist, Dr. Michael Thompson, says boys and girls are much more the same than they are different. He shares a study where 50,000 boys and 50,000 girls were given the same psychological tests and the bell curve for boys and girls overlaps 90%. It’s the traits found in the edges sticking out of the bell curves where we get our gender stereotypes. 

The American Psychological Association says that 80% of men suffer from some form of alexithymia (an inability to put emotions/feelings into words). With all this emotional suppression we’re teaching our boys (directly or indirectly) combined with narrow definitions of masculinity, it’s no wonder we have a mental health crisis (which typically turns into a substance abuse crisis) in our country. Many boys are at risk for mental health disorders and substance abuse, and far too many at risk of suicide. All of this has the potential to accumulate into acts of violence. Ehrmann says a broken man is one who has disconnected his head from his heart. He then shares how a real man is one who knows the importance of relationships and being connected to a great cause. It’s about a man’s heart. Emotional connection is not a feminine trait, it’s a human one, and our boys are missing out. As the great orator and abolitionist, Frederick Douglas, once said, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” 

So, where does this leave the Church? We need to examine the ways we’ve adopted the larger cultures beliefs about manhood into our Church culture. We need to root out these lies that should have no part in the Kingdom of God. This is not the way of the man of sorrows, the God who became flesh and dwelt among us in the ultimate act of empathy and connection. A good biblical counter phrase to “Be a man!” is “Jesus wept”. Jesus showed us what it means to be human and what it means to be divine. God has a heart, God has feelings and emotions. He made us in his image, therefore we have emotions and feelings. When we shut them down we are not only becoming less human, we are becoming less like God. We are distorting his image in us and in the lives of others. God created us for connection. With himself and with others. And yet we walk around as lesser parts of ourselves, disconnected, and less whole. May we seek ways to connect deeply and meaningfully with others as we open up and heal our collective brokenness in this country and in our world. May his Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven, and may we join in that work in our own lives, in our homes, in our churches, and in our communities.  

You have a Friend in the Valley

The other day, I saw a text graphic on Facebook that contained these words: “Fear has no place in the life of a believer.” The caption explained that if we truly know we are eternally loved, fear should not be part of our lives. A pastor posted this. Another time, in a Bible study setting, I heard a pastor’s wife talk about doing a shooter drill at her children’s school (also her place of employment) and how as a believer she was full of peace, but her unbelieving co-worker was wrought with fear. Her comment after sharing the story was similar to the text graphic: she didn’t have any fear about the situation, because she was a believer.

Scripture Acknowledges Our Fear

These two examples show that, especially in the Church, fear and anxiety are still stigmatized. Yes, all over Scripture we hear, “do not fear,” but it’s said with the expectation that we will fear (Ps. 56:3). It’s a natural human experience. God knows this, and Jesus was familiar with it. When Jesus calmed the storm for His disciples, He did tell them they had small faith, but He also never denied the severity and danger of the storm. Peter had “little faith” because he believed the danger of the storm was stronger than the power of Jesus. And we can’t forget the overall context of this scenario: Jesus was always using these situations (signs and miracles) to point to His even greater spiritual power over the curse of sin and death. He was always pointing to His death and resurrection.

In fact, I believe it can be argued that Jesus Himself experienced fear and anxiety (yet without any taint of sin) in the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:39–46). He sweat blood and tears. He had to have been anxious and in great turmoil on the night before He died, knowing what was ahead of Him. And yet, we see in the midst of His anxiety, Jesus shows us that we must pray as He did.

There is much to fear in this life. The Bible never negates this but always assumes it. I believe fear will always be a part of a believer’s life (though some will battle it worse than others). This is because of the curse and because we are made of dust (Ps. 103:14). Jesus is fully capable of delivering us from our fear and anxiety, and many of us might have a testimony of Him doing that, but the only full victory that Jesus promises us in this life is victory over the consequences and power of our sin through the gospel. There is no “name it and claim it” in Scripture for complete deliverance from fear and anxiety in this life; that is a promise we can only claim for the life to come.

A Valley Path to Growth in Our Fear

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The Bible’s Hope for your Anxiety: How Scripture trains us to respond to fear

Anxiety is close to home for me. In fact, it’s right under my roof. Though I’m not typically an anxious person, I’ve had my own dark season of anxiety. And my husband has struggled with it on a sometimes daily basis—even to the point where it has affected our home and marriage. Like his dad, my firstborn son struggles with anxiety. I began to notice strange behavior from him even as a toddler and preschooler. My son’s anxiety affected me. It limited me. At the time, I didn’t realize that not all moms have to work through these types of behaviors with their children. Though I’ve seen tremendous growth in him for the past eight months, anxiety can still lurk on the edges of his life.

There are many ways to handle anxiety. Different methods work for different people. Some need medication, some find counseling or therapy helpful, and some get help through other types of managing techniques. While all of these options are helpful, and necessary for some people, there is a spiritual foundation that must be in place (even while seeking professional help). The anxious heart and mind must be anchored in the rock of God’s Word. No matter what our circumstances, the Bible offers hope for us in our anxiety.

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Process and Pray Through the Arts

“Know thyself.” The ancient Greek maxim holds some truth to it. Though there is such a thing as morbid introspection, knowing ourselves can be crucial for the believer in Christ. We mainly find out about ourselves through reading Scripture, which acquaints us with our sinful nature and helps us get to know the character of God, but we can also get to know ourselves by taking time to process our thoughts and feelings. There is such a thing as healthy self-reflection and assessment in light of the grace found in Christ. If self-reflection and assessment leads to increased knowledge of God, and if it leads to a deeper love for and a closer relationship with Christ, then it’s healthy.

Leave Room for Silence and Reflection

Our culture, in general, is busy and fast-paced. We tend to overschedule and pack in as much as we can in our lives for various reasons—success, money, fame, anxiety, etc. We don’t leave enough room for silence, for the stillness and quiet to invade us and show us ourselves and the Word of God applied to our lives. God can still work in our lives during busyness, but we must fight against intentionally crowding him out due to idols of the heart. One way we can stop the madness and invite the stillness is through the arts: stopping to do something with our hands; laboring to make something beautiful—whether a loaf of bread, a painting, or a knit hat; taking a walk with a camera in hand; or carving out time to sit down and write, whether that be formal writing on a laptop or informal writing in a personal journal.

God created us to process. And we do a disservice to ourselves when we zoom past that and ignore or bury our feelings instead of acknowledging them and working through them. Our emotions are a gift from God and designed by Him as a signpost for us. We don’t need to be scared of emotions or automatically assume they are all sinful. But we do need to make sure that the Word of Truth is always our foundation and use it to test our thoughts and feelings. The end goal of acknowledging and processing our thoughts and feelings is always to love God and neighbor more. It’s not ultimately about our self-fulfillment or self-actualization, and it’s not at all about self-glorification. We process in order to understand and help ourselves, so we can then love others better. The end result must always be doing the right thing in accordance with Scripture; the end fruit is always virtue. And spiritual rest is another added bonus.

Follow the Psalmists’ Example

The arts can be one vehicle of providing rest through helping us process life, emotions, human experience, and even the truths of Scripture. We see a prime example of this from King David.

Read the rest at Revive our Hearts >>

The Limited Joy of Tidying Up

They were a tired, run-down couple. They were frustrated—with each other and with the house. Closets were overflowing, tupperware was spilling out of drawers, and they had two small children adding their own daily messes. Their life needed an intervention, so a Japanese woman was called in to help. Marie Kondo is her name, and in her new Netflix original series, Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, she enters the homes of families like this to bring peace, stability, and her trademark staple: joy.

First, the problem is identified. The young married couple starts the episode talking about their personal issues with one another and their home life in general. The stay-at-home wife can’t stay on top of all the laundry and has to hire help. Her working husband expresses frustration with this. They both talk about feeling tension and anxiety and the effects on their relationship.

Kondo’s method, known as #KonMarie and first presented in her 2014 book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, is to begin with a long moment of silence and then a good house purging. Her decluttering method is based on categories, so the couple begins with dumping all their clothes out in one large pile and sorting. The wife picks up an old t-shirt she doesn’t even remember owning, then she literally thanks it and puts it in the discard pile. When she picks up the next item a big smile brims on her face. This article of clothing brings her joy, so she puts it in the pile of clothes she’ll keep. This process repeats itself with the next couple tiers of categories that Kondo has devised.

Throughout the process of dumping, sorting, and organizing, the cameras are always attuned to sentimentality, as when a wedding video is found. Both spouses can be seen talking to the cameras about any good changes happening, not just with the house, but within themselves or in their marriage. The end result? A tidy home and tidy hearts. Marie Kondo wants to help people find joy in their relationships and in their homes. She helps people get rid of material possessions, but also spiritual baggage. At the end of the episode Kondo says, “Couples can deepen their ties through tidying.”

Time for a confession: I love decluttering and organizing. Like Kondo, tidying up gives me joy. I feel alive when I can throw together bags for donations or toss something in the trash. I love seeing a well-organized and clean room, cabinet, or drawer. For me, everything has a place to go, and if it doesn’t, I’ll find one. My problem is the opposite of many on the show. I have trouble being at peace with “stuff.” I’ve had to learn to overlook, at times, the clutter my husband and children leave behind. I’ve had to learn patience and forbearance with my family. Having children means more things in the house than I would personally like to have. Being a homeschooling mom also doubles this “stuff problem.”

But Marie Kondo points out that not all stuff is a problem. She never advocates to get rid of all our sentimental items. She even points out how a lot of material things can carry deep meaning for our lives and our relationships. Kondo has helped confirm to me that material possessions are not inherently evil, but they can be a distraction from more important things. Kondo is trying to solve a spiritual problem: excess. The vice of materialism and consumerism has many of us in its grip.

This should resonate with Christians, as the Bible calls us to be wary of consumerism. We are told to “store up … treasures in heaven,” not on earth. We are also reminded that this world is not our home. God does not want us to find our identity in material possessions, like the rich young rulerwho couldn’t leave behind his earthly wealth to follow Christ. What’s more, Kondo’s message of valuing people and relationships is another reminder to love our neighborTidying Up helps us see that we are too easily fixated on the material things of this world. The show leads us to a deeper, unseen realm of spirituality. We are more than material. We have a soul as well as a body.

Kondo’s spirituality seems to be rooted in her idea of joy. Here, however, her thinking falls short of the Bible’s standard.

Read the rest at Think Christian >>

Be Mine, Neighbor

It was an unplanned stop at The Dollar Tree. I was waiting for my oldest son to be done with his homeschool co-op classes, while I entertained my two youngest. I let my one year old exercise her little legs around the store, while my four year old grabbed some boxed character themed valentines. The front of the store was drowning in red and pink hearts, candy, and cupids. All the things we associate with a commercial holiday.

The books I’ve read to my children about St. Valentine and the origins of this holiday, make me wonder even more why we bother to celebrate it. My cynical side says it’s just another opportunity for the big candy businesses, card companies, and retail stores to get our money again; for us to consume more stuff. My mommy side likes the cutesy crafts, gifts, cards, and valentine exchanges. I want my kids to have fun and enjoy themselves too. But then real life situations hit me with something deeper, like what happened at the dollar store.

By the time I was done at the store, I was feeling a bit frazzled from my children. With two bags in hand, and my littlest one on my hip, we all headed out the door. But then I was stopped by a man sitting in front of the store (who I immediately assumed wanted help), and I was ready with my typical response, “Sorry, I don’t have any cash,” when he said, “I’m not asking for any money, honestly. I just want some breakfast for my family. I’ll take anything from inside.”

I was stunned. I told him I’d help him, but I needed to at least put my bags in the car and get my baby secured in either her car seat or stroller. Still feeling frazzled, and now inconvenienced as a mom of little ones, the thought crossed my mind that I should probably just drive away. This is too hard with my kids right now. More thoughts ran at me as I thought about what I was about to do. Maybe he’s lying? Maybe this is just a scam? (Highly plausible thoughts in the city of Philadelphia.) Maybe I would be enabling some type of bad behavior? Maybe I’m being taken advantage of? I pushed aside the flood of thoughts and just went back inside with him, my children in tow. He had a basket full of breakfast cereal, then he asked me if he could grab a PowerAde. “Sure,” I said. And I placed my chip card in the reader.

As I drove away, I felt glad about what I did, but also still wondered if I was taken advantage of. I’ll never know. I don’t know that man’s life, and if his story was true. But I know a week before Valentine’s Day, I chose to love my neighbor. And I was reminded of the story Jesus told about The Good Samaritan.

In Luke 10:25-37, a lawyer puts Jesus to the test in order to justify himself when he asks, “Who is my neighbor?” In reply, Jesus tells a story of a Jewish man who is robbed, and left for dead, on the road to Jericho. All the typical “holy” Jewish leaders come by, like a priest and a Levite, but they don’t even mind him. Instead a Samaritan, a man who is hated and scorned by the Jews, and has no ethnic heritage or shared nationality with the mistreated man, goes above and beyond in his care of him. Jesus was showing this lawyer that he falls much shorter from the law than he thinks. Yes, it’s easy to love your neighbor at times, but not easy when they are different from you or have mistreated you. Jesus takes it up a notch when he tells us to love our enemies (Matt 5:43-48). Jews and Samaritans were practically enemies. The question the lawyer should have asked was, “How should I love my neighbor?” not, “Who is my neighbor?”

Everyone is our neighbor, those close and those far, those like us and those unlike us, those related to us and those unrelated, strangers and friends, and those who are nice to us or mean to us. That man at the dollar store was my neighbor, even if he was taking advantage of me. Sometimes, loving our neighbor means being taking advantage of or inconvenienced. Don’t get me wrong, in certain circumstances, it’s good to draw healthy boundaries for ourselves and others, but at the same time, we are all called by Christ to be at peace with a certain level of mistreatment and still love our neighbor. Jesus tells us to turn the other cheek, and if someone wants to sue us (or take something from us), we just give them more (Matt 5:38-42). This is a hard call, but Jesus didn’t tell us to take up our cross for nothing.

None of us are perfect at this kind of neighborly love. Many of my thoughts at the dollar store were more akin to the priest and Levite than the good samaritan. But thanks be to God, through our Lord Jesus Christ, that our Savior has loved all his neighbors perfectly. He loved his neighbor to the point of death (Phil 2:8). He picked up a cross for us, and he commands us to pick up our cross for others (Luke 9:23). For our neighbor. For a man asking for food the week before Valentine’s Day. We are called to love, not just on the “love” holiday, but every day for the rest of our lives. And the love bar is set much higher than anything Cupid’s arrows could pierce. Only the love of God, in Christ Jesus, could fly that high.


This originally appeared on Morning by Morning. 

Why You Should Number Your Days this New Year

A new year always comes at the heels of Christmas. In the words of John Lennon and Yoko Ono:

“And so this is Christmas and what have we done
Another year over, a new one just begun.”

The end of a year brings reflection and remembrance, and a new year ushers in fresh hope and purpose. What have we done? What will we do now? All of these ideas center around one central hub: the passing of time.

Though we always want to look back, we move ever forward in time’s current, year after year. This year, we can spend some of our time to stop and think. How can we make the most of our time when all it seems to do is sprout wings and fly?

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Take Your Family to the House of Mourning: Children’s Books that Move Us

My son was hiding under the art easel so I couldn’t see him.

“Simon, come here. What are you doing?”

He shook his head, fighting back tears.

“Simon, please come here.”

He slowly crawled out of his hiding spot and walked over to me.

I brought him in close and said, “If you feel like crying, you should cry. What you’re doing is good, Simon. It’s good to be sad about death. Death is wrong.”

“It is?” he asked.

I said yes, we cried a little bit and held each other, then kept reading.

No one in our family has died recently, I’ve just been reading out loud to my six year old son from J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan. It’s been a mixture of tears and laughter and some healthy discussions about hard topics. I’ve found the element of story to be a great way to talk about hard things with my son. Great children’s literature is wrought with deep universal topics and questions that have been shared throughout history.

Even from a young age, we can ask our children good questions to build healthy discussions about hard topics. When I’ve not avoided difficult topics, like death, loss, and racism, my son and I have bonded more. It’s crucial to listen to Solomon in Ecclesiastes 7:2:

It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart.

It’s good to be reminded of our own mortality, because it humbles us to our rightful place as feeble humans, teaches us wisdom in order to number our days rightly, and helps us learn empathy for our fellow image bearers.

We don’t have to always scout out non-fiction by solely Christian authors in order to teach our children. We must not underestimate our children’s capability to absorb a story rich in ideas. Even if they don’t understand all of the concepts in the story on the first read aloud, it will become a treasure buried in their hearts and minds that can be re-discovered in various ways and connections later on. The point is to continually expose our children to these types of inspirational stories over the years of their childhood and even teenage years.

Here are a few literary stories that enable discussions over death, loss, and racism. And don’t forget that even if the discussions don’t “take off” in the ways we imagined, the main point is the exposure to the ideas in the text.

Peter Pan by J.M.Barrie

On our walk to church one morning my sons were observing and delighting in all the freshly blossomed flowers. Then we stumbled upon a dead bird. Right in the middle of new spring life was a dark death. We must all be confronted with death at some point in our lives. My sons can’t even escape this reality on an innocent walk to church.

In Peter Pan,  J.M. Barrie helps children confront death and loss through a magical and imaginative place called Neverland. A place where children never grow up and are always on an adventure. Though I’ve had to talk to my oldest son about the inappropriate names and portrayal of Native Americans in the book, we’ve laughed and cried together too.

We marveled at Peter’s Christ like sacrifice when he let Wendy have the balloon to escape from drowning. Then we cried when the rising waters of mermaid lagoon threatened to take Peter’s life, and after a bout of fear his courage returned as he cried, “To die would be an awfully great adventure!” The ticking clock of the crocodile, in constant pursuit of Captain Hook, clues us into the sure fate of us all. As J.M. Barrie says, “Time is chasing after all of us.” Hook only has so much allotted time until he is swallowed up in death. So, how should we spend the time we are given?

My son and I were able to talk about orphans when we realized Peter Pan and the lost boys had no parents and desperately desired a mother. We felt empathy for Peter as he gazed through the barred windows at the joyful family reunion of the Darling family. Especially, when we remembered his own personal loss: coming back to his nursery window from Neverland to find it closed, as he peered inside to see his parents with a new baby boy. My son and I shed our own tears at this loss of family. We felt for Peter. Entering into another’s loss, learning about time and death, and courage and sacrifice are life lessons we want to share with our children. Peter Pan can help us do this.

Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White

Wilbur the pig comes into this world with a natural human desire: he doesn’t want to die. He’s saved from eight year old Fern who wants to keep him as her pet, until he grows too big and is sold to another farm. He finds himself on death row again, but this time he’s saved from a spider named Charlotte who can weave words into her web. Her plan to rescue Wilbur works and even makes him famous in the process. Charlotte and Wilbur show us that death is a part of living, and that death teaches us how to live. As Charlotte tells Wilbur:

You have been my friend. That in itself is a tremendous thing. I wove my webs for you because I liked you. After all, what’s a life, anyway? We’re born, we live a little while, we die. A spider’s life can’t help being something of a mess, with all this trapping and eating flies. By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle. Heaven knows anyone’s life can stand a little of that.

Charlotte sacrificed her short life for Wilbur so he himself could live. A spider can show us, and our children, that life is short and we must spend it for others. And as we deal with the loss of a loved one, Wilbur teaches us that they can never be forgotten or replaced:

Wilbur never forgot Charlotte. Although he loved her children and grandchildren dearly, none of the new spiders ever quite took her place in his heart.

Freedom Song: The Story of Henry Box Brown by Sally Walker

This title is different from the first two books. It’s not an old book, like the other two, and might not neatly fit into the idea of a true “literary” read, but it still helps convey the idea of slavery to young children. It’s a picture book and tells a true story from the perspective of a slave. I’ve explained slavery to my oldest son before, but reading this book helped him see it as something more concrete and human. He felt the injustice.

Music also plays an important part in this story as Henry longs for freedom and creates his own songs in the midst of hope and despair. He is separated from his family when he is sold to another master.  But we find happiness with him as he marries and starts his own family, only to feel his loss as his family is ripped away from him and sold. He hatches a plan to hide away in a box to the north, and the desire for him to be free is born in us. There is another similar picture book about Henry Box Brown by Ellen Levine called, Henry’s Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad.

The right story can be a powerful tool to display truth and beauty to our children. Along the way, story teaches us to feel and to know. To know about slavery and to feel the pain of bondage and separation. To know about death and feel that we must learn to live our lives rightly. To know about loss and feel the right way to respond. In our day and time it’s more important than ever to raise up children who feel moved on another’s behalf and who desire to tabernacle among the suffering.


This originally appeared at Morning by Morning >>

Why Redeeming Our Thoughts Matters

Broken sexuality has been before our eyes continuously in the form of hashtags and headlines. It’s been a steady stream of repeated revelations of sex abuse scandals. For many, their deeds of darkness have finally been brought into the light (Eph. 5:11), and there has been appropriate public outcry over many of these revelations.

How do these dark deeds become actions in the first place, though? The answer is complex. One aspect that might be passed over because it’s often viewed as normal in our culture, is pornography. We’re a culture steeped in pornographic images, even if it’s soft porn found in mainstream films, TV shows, and books. Though there is not always a direct correlation between pornography and sexual abuse, there is a possible connection between the two that should be taken more seriously.

Read the Rest at ERLC >> 

Goodbye Christopher Robin Beckons Us Back to the Hundred Acre Wood

Peace in wartime, happiness in sadness, fame in obscurity, and stillness amidst the busyness. These are all longings we experience in life on earth. And all are present in the film Goodbye Christopher Robin. The movie is about author and playwright A. A. Milne and the creation of Winnie the Pooh, centering around a boy who loved his toys and the woods. A creative telling of Milne’s life and his relationship with his son, the film shows the impact of one bear on a boy and the whole world. Goodbye Christopher Robin opens with Milne as an adult in post–World War I London. He suffers from war trauma, which is triggered by loud pops and bangs. He’s returned from battle but it stays with him; he becomes disenfranchised with play-writing in the city and flees to the country to write a book against war. Once there, he hits writer’s block and must find inspiration. He finds it in an unlikely place: the imagination of a child and the wonder of nature. These became his new weapons to fight off the existence of war. As the nanny, Olive, says in the opening of the film:

Once upon a time there was a great war that brought so much sadness to so many people, hardly anyone could remember what happiness was like. But something happened that changed all that. It helped us to believe in the good things, the fun things, and a world full of imagination. And then, just like a tap you turned on, happiness came pouring out.

Winnie the Pooh happened. And it became a global sensation. Milne’s son, whom he and his wife called Billy Moon, became known for his birth name, Christopher Robin. The real boy was popularized as an illustrated book character. His toys became Pooh and friends, and his beloved woods were renamed the Hundred Acre Wood. Suddenly, everyone wanted to know about the boy and his imaginary world. He was expected to pose for magazines, attend social events for book promotion, and have tea with important people. Everyone was happy again… but not the real Christopher Robin.

Read the rest at Christ and Pop Culture >>

Sorrow and Joy at Christmas Time

Many Christmas songs are solely exalting, rejoicing, and celebrating – full of holly and jolly, fa la la la la’s, and jingle bells. But this Latin hymn, O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, doesn’t give us a one-sided view of life; it holds a beautiful tension between sorrowing and rejoicing. The song reminds us that we are in the already, but not yet of God’s redemptive plan. Our Savior has come, but he is coming again, so we wait and long. He has paid the penalty for our sin, but the effects of sin are still active in our hearts and in our world.

The hymn itself is mournful and dark sounding, because of its lower, richer tones. The beat is slow and methodical. The lyrics open with the people of Israel waiting in “lonely exile”. Scripture is clear about their exile in Egypt and then in Babylon, but their physical exile was, and still is, a picture of their spiritual exile. God allowed them to be taken captive, because he was punishing them. The Israelites needed to repent, but they never seemed to learn their lesson. They were like sheep without a Shepherd; wandering and lost. Their physical exile was meant to point them to a deeper need in their hearts; a need to be ransomed from their dark inner captivity.

Today, we are not like the Israelites, in the sense that our Emmanuel (meaning “God with us”) has already come. We already have the hope that the Israelites longed to see. The Son of God has appeared to us. He was with us in bodily form on this earth and crushed his body on a tree to redeem our whole being. Though he cried out, “It is finished!” it’s clearly evident that things still aren’t perfect. So we are sorrowful, yet always rejoicing. Our Emmanuel has come and fully secured our eternal salvation. But we still wait for our final deliverance: for everything to be made right, for our sin and tears to be gone, for the banishment of suffering and pain, for our bodies to be resurrected, for the earth to be made new.

We can still cry out with the Israelites in our own earthly exile, because we still wait for the day when we’ll see him face to face and be with him forever. We wait for “death’s dark shadow to be put to flight” completely and finally. We yearn for the day when “our sad divisions cease” and the King of Peace will complete his full plan of redemption. We have reason to lift up our eyes and rejoice, because he will come. He did it once, and he’ll do it again.

This translation of an anonymous Latin hymn doubles as a prayer for the first and second coming of Christ. It takes us into the mind of old Israel, longing for the first coming of the Messiah. And it goes beyond that longing by voicing the yearning of the church of Christ for the Messiah, Jesus Christ, to consummate the history of redemption. – John Piper

This is one of the short devotional meditations found in the free e-book Emmanuel: Readings for the Advent Season

Body Image and Baby Jesus

Before getting pregnant with my third child I worried about my body image. Will I be able to lose the baby weight a third time? Will there be more sagging? More stretching and scars? My postpartum body just doesn’t measure up to images on social media or the magazine aisle at checkout.

The cultural and social pressure out there is tough on our bodies, especially for women. Fat is stigmatized, muscle should be toned, and beach body ready by summertime. If the view of our bodies is reduced to only a scale number and a certain “fit look” then we are missing out on God’s design for our bodies.

They are a temple of the Holy Spirit, which he bought at a great cost (1 Corinthians 6:19–20). Since our bodies are good and not our own, we are called to cherish and care for them and use them in service and sacrifice (Romans 12:1).

Although tempted to believe otherwise when I look in the mirror, my pregnant body is good and my postpartum body is good. Scars and sagging skin are the marks I bear on my body in service of others, like when Jesus showed the disciples the nail scars in his hands. It was good for him to sacrifice his body for me, and it’s good for me to sacrifice my body for another.

Read the rest at Desiring God >>

Emmanuel: Readings for the Advent Season

For the last month and a half or so I’ve been working on creating content for this e-book with the help of Katie Tumino. (Ellie Eugenia worked on the design and layout.) Inside are short devotional meditations inspired by Christmas hymns. I wrote two myself, as well as Katie and Ellie, but we also had a few other contributors writing their own pieces.

We’re offering it for free! 

Get it here.

emmanuelmockuplightaut

The Halloween We Can’t Escape: biblical truth found in a dark holiday

Halloween is spooky. It’s ghouls and goblins, ghosts and skeletons, witches and black cats. Many view it as just a fun time to dress up and get candy, and many view it as an offensive holiday. But whatever our personal convictions are about Halloween, or how we chose to present it to our children, Halloween can be a reminder of certain biblical truths.

Halloween reminds us that life is dark, evil exists, and death is real. Most of us prefer the joy of the Christmas season, the gratefulness of Thanksgiving, or the victory of Easter. We quickly bypass, ignore, or deny the realities that Halloween presents to us. Good Friday comes before Easter though, and Good Friday proves that the spiritual realities of Halloween exist. Why else did we need a savior to face the dark evil for us?

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